Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"More later," I typed, as if I had more to say on the subject.

Not really. Except to add that aside from his weak generalizations about the blogosphere, Plagens' survey of what's been going on in print media is actually pretty balanced and considered.

I especially appreciated the quote from Christopher Knight, who, regarding conservative criticism of the last century--which viewed modern art as evidence that the sky was falling--said: "The declinist view lives on--only now it has turned away from art and set its sights on journalistic art writing."

I mentioned ageism. Don't know if it's worth talking about. I suppose every generation protects its interests and its hierarchies. It does seem tougher and tougher, though, to get a reasonable teaching gig in Studio Art--instead of tenure-track positions, what you'll find is annual renewables, with not only really heavy courseloads, but also the expectation that you'll be, say, the director of the art gallery, too. Or the guy who maintains the facilities.

"They told me what your job responsibilities would be," one of my former professors at Maryland (and current bosses) told me regarding a phone interview with a prospective employer. "I asked them if they wanted you to do an oil change and rotate their tires, too."
What was Peter Plagens thinking?

I don’t know about other people, but I don’t read MAN for snarky repartee. I read MAN to find out about calamity at the Getty, or who’s getting fired this week, or which museum is deaccessioning what. That’s a far sight more useful to me than the soft art celebrity journalism of Michael Kimmelman, or, say, wringing your hands about cultural illiteracy amongst 18-35 year olds.

There's more to address here, and I don't think that Plagens is all wrong. He digs James Elkins, which makes me happy. I love whole sections of What Painting Is and The Object Stares Back--sections, I say, because I often find the quality of Elkins' writing and reasoning inconsistent, no matter how much I admire his ambitions. I think there are problems with What Happened to Art Criticism? in particular, which Plagens quotes at length.

But as far as I'm concerned, at the heart of any discussion about the dangers of the blogosphere and generational brain drain--and in this case, the lack of benefits, pay, and decreased opportunities for advancement in the arts, be it in journals and newspapers or in university art departments--is ageism.

More later.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I always enjoy chronologies in exhibition catalogues. One of the zaniest I can think of is the day-by-day chronicle, Ephemerides, from Marcel Duchamp, published back in 1993 to accompany a show at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.

How were those daily entries organized? By astrological sign, naturally. Pick a day, any day--say, September 13th, under Virgo, of course--and find out what happened throughout his life on that day, from year to year. Good luck with that.

The chronology in the catalogue for the MoMA's 1996 Jasper Johns retrospective has some entertaining entries. Take, for example, this remark from Andy Warhol, on a not-so-remarkable studio visit with Johns and Rauschenberg:

Henry [Geldzahler] brought Jasper to see me. Jasper was very quiet and that was that. Of course, I thought it was terrific that Rauschnberg and Johns had both come up; I admired them so much. After Jasper had gone, David Bourdon said, 'Well, Henry was trying to be the helpful connection, but Jasper didn't look too thrilled to be here.'

One quote from Johns bears directly on that mysterious Michael Chrichton essay in the Whitney catalogue from the late '70s:

The museum asked me what I felt about the catalogue, and I said I would like someone who was a writer rather than an art critic. People who are used to studying my work have such a layered kind of knowledge about it. There are so many references they make that I thought it might be more interesting to have someone outside that kind of training, or business, to see if such a person could see anything in my work.

Given that Johns' last literary collaborator had been Samuel Beckett, one wonders if the author of The Andromeda Strain was really the appropriate seer.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Almost forgot: My pick for Maria Friberg at Conner Contemporary ran in the CP this week.

Check it out here.

Busy working on a gallery piece for next week's issue.

As I write this, there's a sick kitty camped out on our dining room table. Our 12 year old cat, Nika, has lymphoma. We have a sad little household these days.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kriston made me laugh out loud with his Michael Crichton post.

I would only add a passage from a Martin Amis review of The Lost World, collected in The War Against Cliche, p. 222:
When you open The Lost World you enter a strange terrain of one-page chapters, one-sentence paragraphs and one-word sentences. You will gaze through the thick canopy of authorial padding. It's a jungle out there, and jungles are 'hot' sometimes 'very hot'. 'Malcolm wiped his forehead. "It's hot up here."' Levine agrees: '"Yes, it's hot."' Thirty pages later it's still hot. '"Jeez, it's hot up here, " Eddie said.' And Levine agrees again: '"Yes," Levine said, shrugging.' Out there, beyond the foliage, you see herds of cliches, roaming free. You will listen in 'stunned silence' to an 'unearthly cry' or a 'deafening roar'. Raptors are 'rapacious'. Reptiles are 'reptilian'. Pain is 'searing'.

Friday, January 19, 2007

This made me laugh: Below you'll find part of an e-mail from a friend of mine who didn’t get into the Fraser Gallery's annual juried photo show.

"I was looking through the list of titles--from various photographers around the country--and there is a definite theme. See if you can spot it:

The Two Oceans

Fog on the Coast
Bass Harbor
Dawn: Trona
Dusk: Trona
Trees and Fog
Rocks and Fog
Tree in Fog
Wood Pier
Ocean Point: East Booth Bay
Into the Narrows

Ok, next time I haul my camera to a large body of water in the fog, at dawn or dusk, and I'm in like Flynn."

Congratulations to Jiha Moon: The Hirshorn has acquired two of her paintings, Place for Sib-Jang-Saeng II (2004, pictured) and Styx (2005).

Let's hope that she doesn't have to wait for John Baldessari to rediscover them at some point.
Jiha Moon, Place for Sib-Jang-Saeng II, 2004, ink and acrylic on silk
Sorry it's been a slow week--busy finishing things up for the Cubicle 10 opening tomorrow night.

Today I have a
pick for Stella Maris at Curator's Office in the CP.

Looking forward to writing a gallery piece by the end of the month--the first of the new year. Next Tuesday, I'll get my first taste of the new Jasper Johns show at the NGA.

Monday, January 15, 2007

If you haven't seen this, there's an entertaining article here by Zadie Smith. No, it's not about art or art criticism; it's about writing fiction. But it does deal with one of my favorite topics: The history of art as a series of failures.

Smith also writes about T.S. Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent, an essay that I've foisted on my Intro Art Theory students in the past. She rightly dismisses Eliot's whole semi-conservative early modern shtick about the subtraction of the self from art--and suggests that maybe what Eliot wanted to escape wasn't personality, but responsibility for having his wife institutionalized.

Despite that, I do still like Eliot's belief that the emotion of art is as powerful as the emotion of life--but that although it often imitates the forms that lived emotion/experience takes, the emotion of art is ultimately something different.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

You'll have to wait until September to see it, but it's nice to know that this show is in the pipeline.

Of course, you already know what I think of Hopper.
Busy finishing something up for the opening at Billy Colbert's revamped space in Baltimore, Cubicle Ten. Here's the invite:

I'll have some new paintings in the show, and a video preview for my collaboration with Meg Mitchell, Ian and Jan: The Undiscovered Duo.

That'll be at DCAC in May.

So, next Saturday. Baltimore. See you there!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I'll be in New Jersey this weekend. You, however, should be at 1515 14th Street.

Here's one good reason why. From the press release:
"Stella Maris: J.W. Mahoney presents an agitprop installation of works on paper and cloth that meditates upon the subject of the feminine through a dynamic combination of mysterious digitized imagery, poetic texts, and turn-of-the century Viennese, old Russian and Japanese design principles. Mahoney's approach to content is distinctive -- and always immediately recognizable by his cognoscenti -- as he coaxes dense emotional questions out of loaded images and ideas. An opening reception for this acclaimed artist, writer, educator, and curator is scheduled for Saturday, January 13 from 6:30 - 8 pm in conjunction with the joint receptions at the 1515 14th Street Arts Building in Washington, DC."

So there you have it: Curator's Office. Saturday.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go coax some dense emotional questions from my breakfast.

This obviously would've been better if they'd picked the Manet instead.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

If it takes awhile for your comments to show up on the blog--and thank you to all three of my enterprising comment-writers thus far, by the way--that's because I've got comment moderation turned on, and I have to approve things before they go up.

Maybe I should turn it off...I'm just checking to make sure no random person's going to put up links to porn sites, or instructions on how to build a neutron bomb, or, well, something nefarious like that.

So your comments will be posted, as long as you're not doing either of those things. No need to re-submit! Sorry if I'm slow to check over the course of the day sometimes.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Well, I can't resist this: In case you missed it yesterday, Tyler over at MAN pointed out this article about a show at the MFA in Boston. A fine example of how to pinpoint the highlights of a show while still slicing the premise--and the lesser works--to ribbons. Add to that a frank analysis of the machinations of museums, curators, and donors, and, hey, that's a nice bit of artwriting.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The January issue of Art in America has a couple of decent articles on Manet, one of which actually surprised me.
Really, maybe it shouldn't have. But it's easy to get accustomed to thinking about certain artists a certain way.

What do I know about Manet? Well, when I show his work to my students, I typically cast him as utterly modern. His reduction of figures to essentially flat, washed-out underpainting shows an acknowledgement of the flatness of the picture plane and a rejection of chiaroscuro and licked finishes; his odd mismatches of figures and scenarios—the bearded bohemians in Luncheon on the Grass; the courtesan standing in for a reclining classical goddess in Olympia—reflect what that inveterate realist Courbet famously insisted: that painters should only depict the present moment, eschewing received historical subjects and devices in favor of what’s authentically now.

Of course, I think that sums up every intro art history professor’s take on him.

Anyway, Alexi Worth’s article, "The Lost Photographs of Edouard Manet," argues that those flattened, washed-out bodies, framed by severe, thin shadows at their outermost edges, are all the product of the harsh frontal lighting of popular photography at the time.

This may not seem like much of a breakthrough insight…but for some reason, I always exclusively associated that willfull flatness with painterly strategies--never photographic ones. Yet it seems perfectly obvious, particularly in the main example that Worth uses, The Dead Christ and the Angels. It’s also apparent in Olympia, and for the central female figure in Luncheon on the Grass.

We typically think of photo based works as meticulously detailed and naturalistic…but according to Worth, Manet used photographic technique to flatten and reduce.

Further, in a painting like Masemoiselle V…in the Costume of an Espada (1862), Worth argues that Manet is combining photographic sources with images taken from paintings—say, Goya or Velazquez. The fragments remain fragments, unresolved, not fitted to match one another, or to make a satisfying pictorial whole. Suddenly, Manet becomes not modern, but postmodern.

Of course, it could be that this just reflects the kind of ad hoc problem solving that artists have engaged in for centuries—combining familiar sources with novel solutions, testing to see what elements will work.
The Dead Christ and the Angels, oil on canvas, 70 3/8" X 59", 1864. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Olympia, oil on canvas, 51 3/8" X 74 3/4", 1863. Musee d'Orsay.
Mademoiselle the Costume of an Espada, oil on canvas, 65" X 50 1/4", 1862. Metropolitan Museum of Art.